Reviews

Based on a wide range of primary sources (notably correspondences addressed to The Religious Monitor of Edinburgh), this substantial paper describes the endeavours of early nineteenth-century Scottish missionaries in Russian-controlled parts of the Northern Caucasus.  The Russian government which had wiped them from their native Crimea was wiling to coopt the once-glorious Girays who had taken refuge among the Noghai tribes.  Tsar Alexander i considered positively an appeal of the Edinburgh Missionary Society and the Scottish missionaries established themselves in the village of Karas within the Noghai lands.  A novel method brought up by the missionaries to introduce Christianity to the local Muslims was to ransom slave youths from the mountaineers and to educate them in the colony as Christians.  Local Muslims deeply resented the Tsar’s grant of land, which they considered theirs, to the Scottish mission.  The missionaries were frequently under threat, especially on the part of the Kabardians, which induced them to seek refuge in Georgievsk, the nearby Russian fort, and to ask for Russian military guards.

Among the very few converts they managed to make was Kattı Khan Giray (or Aleksandr Ivanovich Sultan-Kyrym-Giray), a young alleged member of the Giray lineage, the former Chingisid ruling dynasty of the Crimean Khanate.  His baptism in 1807 was the beginning of a unusual life for Giray who, after a short career in the Russian military service, would try to spread Christianity among his countrymen, the Crimean Tatars, as well as among the Turkic-speaking Karaim, Greeks and Armenians of the Crimea.  For his purpose, Kattı Giray travelled to Scotland and to Ireland and, with the personal support of Tsar Alexander i, attempted to launch grandiose projects for missionary work in the Crimea—notably the establishment in Akmescit of an “Experimental School” for Muslim youth from the Crimea and beyond, with the help of a “Hibernian Missionary Society for Tartary and Circassia” purposely created in 1819 in Dublin.  The local Crimean Tatar society was appalled and outraged by rickety conversions and having realised the real purpose of the presence of the Scots there, its attitude towards them changed immediately.  Kattı Giray’s dreamed-of Seminary could not be realised:  Deprived of a financial support, Kattı Giray privately employed a Crimean Tatar teacher in Akmescit to instruct Crimean Tatar children in the Christian faith, by using the Scriptures as textbooks, until the closure of his ‘school’ by mid-1823 on the request of the Russian Minister of Cults.

Another notable, if individual exception to the gloomy picture for Christian missionary work among the Russia’s Muslims was the case of Muhammad-‘Ali Qasim Beg, or Aleksandr Ivanovich Kazem-Bek, whose case bore interesting similarities to that of Kattı Giray.  Just like the latter, Kazem Beg could not remain socially and culturally a Persian and simultaneously a Christian:  He would be detached from his former societal identity and, together with his descendants, become part of Russian society.  The paper ends with chapters on Kattı Giray’s life as a pomeshchik (noble landowner) until his death in Demirci in 1847; on a short evocation of the life stories of his numerous children—notably Nikolai Aleksandrovich (d. 1921?), a democratically and progressively minded administrator who after military service was elected as mayor (gorodskii golova) of the city of Kefe (Feodosiia), then as chairman of the zemstvo administration and marshal of the nobility of the uezd of Kefe.  Appreciated by Ismail Bey Gasprinskii, whose Tarjuman often carries information about his promotions, Nikolai Aleksandrovich appeared to be an outspoken defender of the rights of the Crimean Tatars in agrarian and land matters.  The paper’s very last chapter is devoted to the biography of two other baptised Girays: the probable grandfather of Akim Pavlovich Shan-Giray (1818-83), known to the public as a close friend and relative of the poet Mikhail Lermontov, and the descendants of a certain Selim Giray.

The whole study brings a captivating contribution to the history of non-Orthodox Christian missionary activity, and its varied impacts, among the Muslims of the Russian Empire.  Unfortunately, as in his previous works on the modern history of the Crimean Tatars, the author does not always keep away from an apologetic tone.  Neither does H. Kirimli show very much interested in the potential impact that the work of the Scottish missionaries—especially their Turkic translations of the Christian scriptures, and their setting up of a printing press in Karas for the publication of catechisms and translations of the Gospels—may have had upon local Muslim Noghais, Adyghes and Crimean Tatars.  Nevertheless, the author’s eloquent evocation of Kattı Giray’s exaggerations in front of poorly informed Scottish audiences, his depiction of the imagination of Kattı Giray, by the Scots, as a Moghul prince with incalculable wealth after his marriage with a Scottish lady (soon disinherited by her father), in Edinburgh in 1820, are quite witty remarks that shed light on the misunderstandings that lied at the core of British Protestant missionary activity among the Muslim populations of the Russian Empire under the reign of Alexander i.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-3.2.C-214